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Matlock Bath: Lovers' Walks
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Arkwright family pedigree

The Ferry, 1836
shows Walker's shop on Lovers' Walks

Stereoview of Lovers' Walk, 1859-62

Lovers' Walks 1901

On the Lovers' Walk - and the Ferry, 1900

Lovers' Walks, 1914

Lovers Walks, 1950s

Willersley Castle Estate Sale, 1927

Matlock Bath today,
includes Lovers' Walks

The first reference to Lovers' Walks being a pleasure ground was in 1741. For most of the nineteenth century the walks were leased from the Arkwrights of Willersley by, firstly, the Walkers (of Walker's Hotel)[1] and, secondly, by Mrs. Hannah Ratcliffe[2] and her husband George[3].

In 1869 Thomas Walker sued Herbert Buxton for trespass on a part of the Lovers' Walks in a case about boating rights. Whilst giving evidence Mr. Walker stated that he "rented the Lover's Walks, for which he paid Mr. Arkwright £5 per year, which, considering that the walks had been made by his family, who had been tenants for 100 years, was sufficient rent"[3a].

Until the Jubilee Bridge was opened in 1887 access was only available by either the river ferry or from the grounds of Willersley Castle to the south. In 1897, following Mrs. Ratcliffe's death, Matlock Bath Council leased the Lovers' Walks for a period of 21 years at a rent of £40 per. annum[5].

Frederic Charles Arkwright died in 1923 and the Willersley estate, including the Lovers' Walks, was put up for sale[6]. When it eventually sold in 1927 the Council (by then the Matlocks Urban Council) was holding another lease for Lovers' Walks that still has twenty years to run. There were boating and fishing rights included in the lease. Sir Albert Ball had bought Willersley but resold the lot of the Lovers' Walks almost immediately to G. H. Drabble, a well-known local timber merchant[7]. The Council had tried to buy the walks at the sale, as they wished them to be preserved as a pleasure resort in perpetuity, but were obviously outbid. However, they continued to negotiate but by December that year it became apparent that reaching an agreement with the new owner was impossible. Many feared that Harry Drabble might decide to exercise his right to cut down the timber though enjoyment by the general public was assured for another 20 years, anyway, because of the existing lease[8].

In early 1929 both Willersley Castle, Ltd., and Matlock Council refused permission to allow Mr. Drabble to remove timber from the Lovers' Walks through the Castle grounds[9]. Later the same year Mr. Drabble wrote to the Council stating that he would not allow Sunday boating[10].

Shortly after this, the Council announced that people who lived in Matlock, Cromford, and Tansley would not have to pay an entry fee to use the grounds. Matlock Bath residents had not paid to use the walks for some time and including others in the locality was done in the interest of fairness[11]. The Council agreed a scheme to light Lovers' Walks in 1934[12].

Mr. Remo Tinti complained to The Matlocks Council in March 1933 that a fallen tree was overhanging the river at the Lovers Walks and that school children were accustomed to walking on it. He suggested the owner be asked to remove it. "If he doesn't I will go and saw it off myself to prevent the children drowning". The rest of the Council agreed with him. The picture of the felled tree dates from this time and it is assumed this was the tree Remo was referring to[13].

In the Spring of 1935 a compulsory purchase order, partly reproduced below, was published in the local press.

Matlock Urban District Council Notice. Public Works Facilities Act, 1930.
The Lovers Walks, Matlock (no.1) (Compulsory Purchase) Order 1934. ...
Approximately 17.602 acres of land within the Matlock Urban District in the County of Derby situate and lying adjoining Matlock Bath known as "The Lovers' Walks" (including half the bed of the River Derwent co-extensive therewith) being part of enclosure No. 1310 on the Ordnance Survey Map Derbyshire Sheets No XXXIV 6 and XXXIV 7 Edition of 1922 and bounded on the North and West sides thereof by the River Derwent on the South side by land belonging to Willersley Castle and Sidholme Limited and on the East side thereof by lands respectively belonging to Mr. G. H. Drabble, Messrs. Constable Hart and Company Limited and Mr. Samuel Roose. Together with the Fishing and Boating Rights in the River Derwent and all Mines and Minerals in and under the said land and river bed.
Dated this twenty-fifth day of April, 1935.

R. Taylor,
Clerk of the Urban District Council of Matlock.
Council Offices, Town Hall, Matlock.

Extract from the Compulsory Purchase Order relating to Lovers' Walks[14].

Mr. Drabble had wanted the Council to pay £3000 for Lovers' Walks but this was felt to be excessive and the matter went to arbitration. When it was announced in 1936 that the official arbitrator, the Ministry of Health, had assessed the value of the walks at £2,890, and had ordered the Council to pay the costs (increasing the purchase price to £3,000) several Councillors protested. However, the Chairman, L. G. Wildgoose, was quoted as saying that whatever the price, "the Council had to acquire the walks, and if they had allowed that beautiful site to be defaced by cutting down the timber it would have been a crime"[15]. The authorisation of the seal of the Council was passed at the beginning of the following year, when one councillor said it would make them think twice before going to arbitration again[16]. John Betjeman had good reason to write his poem "Matlock Bath" which mentions the threat to the Walks.

As for Sunday boating, the following year the Council's Finance Committee agreed that it should be allowed. On the very first Sunday "boating was duly enjoyed until the rain came"[17].

Lovers' Walks is protected today as it is now Grade II* listed and is one of three registered Historic Parks and Gardens within the Matlock Bath Conservation Area[18].

Here are two images taken from just below the ferry crossing.

We can glimpse some of the rowing boats through the trees beside the riverbank in the first photo. The ferry rope and the fencing for the steps down to the river, where people would cross, show where the ferry used to be.

Almost level with the ferry steps is the former spar shop, run by the Walkers.

A rather curious shelter, with an upturned boat acting as a roof, can be seen in both pictures. After all, why waste perfectly good wood?

The image on the left shows a trestle table underneath the awning, which could have been where people purchased soft drinks or perhaps was where trinkets or spar ornaments were sold.
This next picture is from the 1930s; on the opposite bank, behind the trees on the left hand side, is the Grand Pavilion and its landing stage. The trees are more mature and the Walks appear to have been tidied up. The large tree beside the shelter had been felled, though its trunk was left on the ground next to it.

There are additional benches beside the water and a bench seat has replaced the trestle table under the boat.

The card's sender wrote that "Matlock is a very pretty place but very hilly, so we do not walk too far."

Read Betjeman's poem that mentions the Lovers' Walks on Matlock and Matlock Bath: Inspiration of Poets

1. "Lovers Walk, Matlock Bath". Valentine's Series No.98656? Valentine's Series is a guarantee of British Manufacture. First published in 1926?, although a black and white version was posted in 1924. Not posted.
2. "Lovers Walk, Matlock Bath". Valentine's Colourtone Series, No.88729, Copyright Picture. Printed in Great Britain. First published 1923. Posted 21 May 1929 at Matlock.
3. "Lovers Walk, Matlock Bath". Photographic postcard published by Judges Ltd., Hastings, No. 19845. Unused, but published about 1933-4.
4. "Lovers Walk, Matlock". Photo by Winter, Derby. Date unknown. Published in"The Matlocks, Derbyshire. Official Guide". Issued by the Come to Derbyshire Association, published 1930s but would have been taken a considerable time before that.
5. "Lovers' Walk, Matlock". No publisher, No.26757. This is a real photograph. Posted on 4 Sep 1937 at Matlock.
Postcards and other images in the collection of, provided by and © Ann Andrews.
Written, researched by and © Ann Andrews.
Intended for personal use only.

References (coloured links are to transcripts or more information elsewhere on this web site):

[1] More information about the Walkers can be found on Matlock Bath: Bath Terrace Hotel | The Royal Museum (Smith's), South Parade | Walker's Marble Museum (Bemrose Guide advert).

[2] There is more about Mrs. Ratcliffe on Matlock Bath : The Ferry

[3] "Derbyshire Courier", 6 July 1872. George Ratcliffe placed several notices in the press stating that the Lovers' Walks had been closed for a short time but would shortly re-open.

[3a] "Derbyshire Times", 22 May 1869. Wirksworth County Court. Important River Trespass at Matlock Bath. An Old grievance. Thomas Walker was the proprietor of the Royal Museum by this time.

[5] Bryan, Benjamin (1903) "History of Matlock - Matlock, Manor and Parish" London by Bemrose & Sons, Limited.

[6] The estate failed to attract a buyer, and both the house contents and the estate were eventually sold at auction. See, for example: Willersley Castle Contents Sale, 1927 and Willersley Castle Estate Sale, 1927.

[7] "Derby Daily Telegraph", 6 June 1927. G. H. Drabble, known as Harry Drabble, was the son of George Stendall Drabble of The Limes, Matlock.

[8] "ibid", 21 December 1927. Lovers' Walks. It was acknowledged that he was known to be a man of public spirit and it was deemed both premature and unfair that he intended to destroy one of the chief attractions of Matlock Bath.

[9] "ibid", 15 January 1929. Lovers' Walks to be left alone.

[10] "ibid", 3 July 1929. Sunday boating.

[11] "ibid", 31 July 1929. Matlock, Cromford and Tansley residents now paid the same rates as the people of Matlock Bath as the councils had amalgamated.

[12] "ibid", 17 July 1934. Scheme for electrical Illumination.

[13] "Derbyshire Times", 25 March 1933.

[14] "ibid.", 26 April 1935.

[15] "ibid", 21 August 1936. Lovers' Walks. Purchase Price Criticised at Matlock Council.

[16] "Derby Daily Telegraph", 19 January 1937. The final cost of the walks, together with piece of land at Smedley street, was £3,500.

[17] "ibid", 18 May 1937.

[18] The Grade 2* listing is number 10011416, dated 3rd August 1984.